Obama Administration Sued for “Weak” Oil Rail Car Standards by Environmental Conservation Groups
May 18, 2015
by Mike Clifford
NEW YORK – Environmental groups are taking the Obama administration to court over what they call “weak” safety rules for oil shipped by rail. It’s a timely issue given last week’s fatal Amtrak derailment.
Sean Dixon, an attorney with Hudson Riverkeeper, says the rules issued this month don’t contain enough specifics, and don’t address the broader issue of crude oil safety on the railways. For example, he says, the Amtrak crash happened within several hundred feet of a line of tank cars.
“There’s nothing in this rule that even attempts to address human error, with respect to early reports out of Philadelphia on the Amtrak derailment that high speed may have been a player,” says Dixon. “So, there’s a lot of ancillary issues with respect to crude safety that aren’t anywhere in this rule.”
Dixon says the lawsuit filed last week by Earthjustice charges the administration with not doing enough to protect public safety. The American Petroleum Institute also has taken issue with the new rules and filed suit in the D.C. Circuit.
Some in the petroleum and railroad industries are voluntarily taking steps to improve tank car safety.
Larissa Liebmann, staff attorney with the Waterkeeper Alliance, says the oil industry relies on so-called unit trains, which often link as many as 120 tank cars carrying more than three-million tons of crude oil.
“Even beyond the fact that we have explosions and fires that can happen in communities, a single spill of one tank car can mess up the water for swimming for a good amount of time, for fishing,” says Liebmann. “It can cause drinking water sources to be contaminated.”
Nationwide, Dixon says there has been a 4,000 percent increase in the amount of crude oil shipped by rail in the past six years and a significant share rolls through New York.
“Recent numbers have shown that about a quarter of all of the oil produced in the Bakken fields comes through Albany,” says Dixon. “This last winter, that number got a little bit higher. So, we are a pretty significant player, in terms of regions through which these trains are being shipped.”
The suit was filed in the 9th Circuit on behalf of the Sierra Club, the Waterkeeper Alliance and several other conservation groups.
PHOTO: A federal lawsuit alleges the latest federal safety standards proposed for oil tank cars are too weak to adequately protect public safety, especially in light of the large amount of crude oil now traveling by rail. Photo credit: Chris Jordan-Bloch.
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